Inca Trail (Part 1 of 2)
We woke up at 6AM, with a damp tent from the constant drizzle overnight. My body was feeling stiff from our 12-hour hike the day before. I slowly stretched my hands, toes, and finally wiggled my way out of my sleeping bag to step outside the tent. We had arrived to the campsite late after sundown the night before so I had no idea what our campgrounds looked like. As I breathe in the crisp mountain air, I turned my head to be awed by the view we had from our designated campsite. We have been hiking on this trail for two days now and we were still awed by the views and vistas of the Andes. And still Carlitos, our guide, said that today's hike would have even more amazing views.
Over 500 years ago, stood the Inca Empire, whose rule spanned every direction from the seat of their throne in Cusco (Cuzco), high up in the Andes. Aside from being successful conquerors and administrators, they were also incredible builders. And they built quite possibly, one of the most extensive road systems in the ancient world.
While once was used as a conduit between their conquered territories, the trail is now open for tourists and visitors. The 26 mile "Classic" Inca Trail is just one of the most popular section that ends at its terminus in Machu Picchu. Permits and guides are now required to be on the trail, and the Peruvian government limits the number of visitors to prevent damage on the trail; especially since parts of the trail are of original Incan construction centuries old.
The typical hike is 4-days/3-nights long and includes porters, a chef, and a guide. The porters will carry the tents and supplies to the designated campsites, and they will also have the tents set up before you get there. They also help prepare the ridiculously meticulous lunch, dinner, and breakfast for you.
After a very early (3:30 AM) bus ride from Cusco, the hike starts at “Kilometer 82” where we have to go through the first of several checkpoints throughout the trail. After the checkpoint, we cross the Urubamba River and begin our trek.
The first day started mostly light with some incline towards the end. The climate was quite arid and dry, and we passed through several villages along the way. There are still farmers and locals who lives on the trail, though not many, maybe a couple hundreds nowadays. Some of them make a living from a combination of farming, selling snacks and supplies, as well as making mud bricks.
Every day our hike would stop at the designated campsites, where by the time we got there, the porters would’ve had our sleeping and dining tent set up. They’ll all greet you when you come in, give you some warm water and towels to clean up; and shortly after, warm drinks, snacks and dinner. Dinner is typically amazing for camping standards. Appetizers, soups, rice, meat, and vegetables; served family style. From ceviches, the common lomo saltado, to pizzas and cake. Yes, cake.
Dead Woman’s Pass
The second day, is by far the most difficult and arduous of the trek. The hike will start uphill and continue uphill for most of the day. We had to overcome two mountain passes, the first of which called Dead Woman’s Pass(for the shape of the pass’ profile) that peaks at 13,800ft above sea level. While the ascent was very tiresome, we had spectacular views of the mountain ranges from the trail. And by now the climate of the trail have switched to a cloud forest with very lush vegetation.
At the top, we were greeted with warm drinks (coca tea and coffee), along with the hearty and versatile local bread with cheese.
After we descended and reached our lunch spot, the weather quickly changed and it started pouring down rain. Weather can be hard to predict in the mountains and changes quickly.
As we come up over the second pass, we also stopped to see an Inca ruin. The typical trail itinerary would have you pass and sometimes stop at several Inca sites, mostly dependent on time.
Rainbow over the Andes after the rain
The sun started to set after we reached the second pass. On top of the second pass, like many other hikers before us, I made a little offering of coca leaves as was taught by Carlitos. Holding up the leaves with my hands, I blew towards Mount Veronica, Salkamtay, and Machu Picchu, wishing for good weather for the rest of our journey. I then set the leaves down under some stones and left it at the top of the pass.
But we had to start moving fast, the sun was setting behind the mist and it’ll be dark soon...